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Can You Hear Me Now?

Last week I had the opportunity to be on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” Waiting in the guest area, I hoped Terry Gross or Garrison Keillor would wander by and nod in passing. Of course those NPR royals don’t work out of New York City, but just knowing their voices passed through those office walls was comforting.

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I was on the show with Jerilyn Perine, the Executive Director of the Citizens Housing Planning Council, the city’s organization responsible for implementing “Making Room,” the small apartment initiative launched last summer to create “small, efficient studios designed for single person households.”  

The topic of the show was about the growing trend of living in small spaces. But it turns out there’s another growing trend: that of people living alone. Today 31 million people – about 1 out of 7 – live by themselves. In New York City, about a third of the housing units are single people living alone. Which is where the CHPC’s initiative comes in. They want to create safe, affordable units for this budding demographic.

During the show,

which also discussed the pressure that mini multi-units can put on certain neighborhoods, specifically in Seattle, another topic came up: the importance of community. Case in point: during the show a call came from a soldier in Texas who returned home after serving in the Persian Gulf on the brink of suicide. Not sure what to do with his life, he rented a tiny room about three feet by eight feet (even smaller than my 90 square feet) that had a shared kitchen. He planned to stay only a few days, but something happened. Finding himself a part of a community made him feel better and ultimately saved his life. 

I lived in my small space for almost five years for no other reason than I wanted to experience living in Manhattan. I had planned to stay for only one year. But during that time, as I came to love my lifestyle, I realized that it’s not about the size of your home that makes you happy, but rather the size of your community. Your family, friends, neighbors and even the deli guy who says, “The usual?” when you walk into his shop, make you feel a part of something. We may fool ourselves into thinking that being connected 24/7 through cell phones and iPads is sufficient, but don’t be fooled, that’s more of a disconnect.

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